Australian authorities love asking Big Tech for user data – 4x more than the global average

- March 23, 2023 2 MIN READ
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Australian politicians have another way to brag about the nation being a global leader, although they probably won’t – it’s all about being a surveillance state.

A new report on data surveillance from VPN provider Surfshark, reveals that government requests for user data from big tech companies by local law enforcement and other agencies are four times higher here than the global average , with Australia ranking ninth in the world per capita, behind the US, Germany, the UK, France, Singapore, Ireland, Portugal and Belgium.

The analysis is based on transparency reports published by four major tech companies – Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft in 117 countries between 2013 and 2021. (Amazon was excluded due to a lack of and/or inconsistency in reporting user data disclosure practices).  The user data requests include two metrics – the number of requests a company receives from authorities and the number of accounts specified within them.

Over the nine-year period examined, Meta and Google received the highest number of account requests from Australia.

The  Surfshark report totalled up 6.6 million account requests, including 81,422 from Australia. Dividing that figure by population, Australia came in 9th globally, with 315.6 accounts requested per 100,000 people, just ahead of Taiwan.

Government user data requests to major tech companies. Source: Surfshark

The US and Europe (five countries) account for around 60% of all requests, with the US seeking more than double the accounts per 100K people than all EU countries combined. 

The number of accounts requested increased more than five times from 2013 to 2021, with 2021 seeing a year-over-year increase of around 25%. Australia shows the same trend, with a 164% increase from 2013 to 2021. Requested accounts grew by 12% in 2021 compared to 2020.

Apple complied with the most user data requests at 82%, compared to Meta, Google, and Microsoft at 72%, 71%, and 68%, respectively. While the compliance has been steadily declining at Microsoft and Meta over several years, the disclosure rates are at record highs at Apple and Google.

Tech company disclosure levels to data requests. Source: Surfshark

Surfshark privacy counsel Gabriele Kaveckyte said that while the intent by law enforcement and others is generally to reduce crime, there are concerns around misuse to stifle political dissent.

“Besides requesting data from technology companies, authorities are now exploring more ways to monitor and tackle crime through online services. For instance, the EU is considering a regulation that would require internet service providers to detect, report, and remove abuse-related content,” he

“On one hand, introducing such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organisations expressed their concerns of encouraging surveillance techniques which may later be used, for example, to track down political rivals.”